1960 LeMans Cunningham Corvette Comes to the Peterson Museum
Classic Corvette race car didn’t finish at LeMans, but it played a key role in the racing program development.
Countless Chevrolet Corvette race cars have taken the checkered flag and spent time in victory lane, but this street car-turned-LeMans racer from 1960 never won a race. In fact, the white-and-blue race car shown here never finished a race, yet it is arguably one of the most important cars in Corvette racing history.
This 1960 Corvette recently joined the Peterson Automotive Museum fleet as part of their new “Winning Numbers: The First, The Fastest, The Famous” display. This C1 bounced from one collector to another for more than 30 years before landing in the collection of Bruce Meyer and today, it sits alongside nine other legendary machines in the Peterson Automotive Museum as part of one of the greatest collections of race cars in the world.
“Affectionately called ‘the car guy’s car guy,’ Bruce Meyer epitomizes true automotive passion,” said Petersen Automotive Museum Executive Director Terry L. Karges. “The charisma with which Bruce shares his passion is what sets him apart. ‘Winning Numbers’ reflects his discerning tastes as a collector and motorsports enthusiast, and we’re proud to share his fervor for the hobby with the community.”
Briggs Cunningham and Zora Arkus-Duntov
In the 1950s, Briggs Cunningham was one of the leading American drivers in the world of European motorsports. After campaigning Cadillac race cars in the early 1950s, Cunningham built and raced his own brand of race cars with Chrysler Hemi power with more success than he saw in the Cadillacs, but unable to get into the winner’s circle. As a result, he scrapped his own racing program and began racing with Jaguar with great success.
Cunningham was doing so well that he caught the attention of General Motors engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov. Duntov played a key role in the creation and success of the Corvette and he had previously tried to get the Chevrolet sports car into the field at LeMans, but GM execs didn’t like the plan. However, in the late-1950s, Duntov talked Cunningham into running Corvettes in 1960 with the promise of factory engine support.
Cunningham ordered three loaded Corvettes from Don Allen Chevrolet in Pennsylvania for around $12,000, checking the box for options like fuel injection, performance brake linings, a quick-ratio steering box, a four-speed manual transmission and a limited-slip rear differential.
Next, his team modified the cars for endurance racing, adding a high-volume fuel delivery system, a 37-gallon fuel cell, seats from a Douglas C-47 Skytrain military plane, stiffer springs all around, an array of safety items, some unique aerodynamic features and a unique rear window with access to the fuel cap.
This Corvette, Cunningham car #2, was used for the first heavy testing at Sebring and it performed well until the engine failed. After some tuning adjustments, the team hit the old Bridgehampton circuit in New York with the hopes of finding more weak spots, but when everything looked good, the team decided to head to France for the 1960 24 Hours of LeMans.
Corvette Arrives at LeMans
After fairly minimal testing, three 1960 Corvette race cars were sent to LeMans, with Briggs Cunningham and Jim Kimberly driving car #1, Dick Thompson and Fred Windridge driving car #2 and John Fitch and Bob Grossman driving car #3.
The Cunningham race cars were fast as the race began, but the #1 Corvette made an early exit when Kimberly rolled it over. The #2 car was the next to run into problems, being involved in a minor crash that was significant enough to force it into the pits for repairs. As a result, it fell far enough back in the field that there was no real chance of a strong finish. The #2 team would get back on the track and run until late in the race when the engine expired.
However, while the #1 and #2 Cunningham Corvettes ran into problems, the #3 car overcame some overheating issues late in the race to win the class and finish eighth overall. While a class win in the first-ever trip by the Chevrolet Corvette to LeMans seems like a great result, the overall performance of the car wasn’t good enough for Cunningham. He sold the cars and moved onto some other brand for the next racing season.
Once 1960 Corvette LeMans racer #2 left Cunningham, it changed hands a few times, being painted blue and serving as a road car for a number of years before it was fully restored to its racing appearance in the 1980s. In the 1990s, Bruce Meyer added the car to his collection and it has been raced with some regularity since then, but for the time being, it is living alongside nine other legendary race cars in the Peterson Automotive Museum.